After an extremely slow start to the season, Jason Kipnis has provided the Cleveland Indians with the kind of production they need at second base.
It wasn’t all that long ago that Jason Kipnis was one of the most beloved players by Cleveland Indians fans. He was a star second baseman, having made a couple All-Star games and was rewarded with a big six-year deal, keeping him in Cleveland through at least the 2019 season. However, things first went south after an injury-riddled 2014 season that saw him battle an oblique injury all year. He rebounded from that with two four-win seasons in 2015 and 2016, even making his second All-Star team in 2015.
However, once again in 2017 he was back in the dumps with fans. He missed most of Spring Training and never got going. He was so bad in 2017, that he even lost his second base job and moving to center field in the playoffs. The Indians also did not make it a secret that there were willing to trade Kipnis this winter and reports even had them very close on a deal with the New York Mets. Fortunately for the Indians, that trade did not go through.
That last statement likely caused a few readers to roll their eyes. I mean, look at his numbers this year, he’s hitting .220 with a mere .661 OPS and 82 wRC+. Additionally, in over three months, he has just a 0.8 fWAR. Hardly numbers one should be thankful to have on a contender, much less for someone making $13.5 million as Kipnis is. But if one looks closer, they’d see just how big a turnaround Kipnis has made this season.
After languishing in the two-hole for the first few weeks of the season, he was dropped in the lineup on May 11th to the 6th spot in the lineup. Since that day, Kipnis has hit .255 with a .782 OPS and 116 wRC+. Numbers in line with his 2016 season when he posted a (wait for it), 116 wRC+ and was a near 5-win player (4.8 fWAR).
While many may scoff at this improvement, consider that early in the year, when he had a .520 OPS, his average on balls in play (BABIP) was an extremely low .234. Since dropping in the lineup, it’s improved to .276, which is actually still on the low end but much more in line with his improved hard-hit rate (he currently has a career-high hard-hit rate this season).
In addition to hitting the ball harder this year, Kipnis also has a 10.0% walk rate, which is the highest for him since 2013. He’s been much more patient this year and combined with improved numbers the last two months should give even the most skeptical fan reason for optimism with Jason Kipnis. Since May 1st, he’s actually posted a 1.2 fWAR, which may not sound like much but is a 3-win pace over that time. Also, consider that this year, Michael Brantley made the All-Star team with a 1.3 fWAR for the season. That’s right, over the last 10 weeks, Jason Kipnis has been more valuable than All-Star Michael Brantley (go ahead, roll your eyes ones again).
He’s not the All-Star second baseman he once was, but Jason Kipnis is proving that he’s more the castoff he was treated as this winter. Fans should look past his slow start and perhaps any lineup additions this summer should focus on the outfield and not the infield…
So what do you think of Kipnis’s turnaround? Just a mirage or do you buy into his walk and hard hit rates? Let us know in the comments below.
Photo courtesy of Erik Drost, via Flickr.